Rosalie 2023 Movie Review
CANNES – Is it possible for a movie about a woman suffering from excessive hair growth in the 19th century to be, well, predictably formulaic? Granted, there can be some reassurance in that. A story of someone different persevering against ignorance can be uplifting to many. Even if you discern pretty early on, you know where the story is headed. That’s both the strength and weakness of Stéphanie Di Giusto‘s period drama “Rosalie,” which debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section.
Set in 1870, Rosalie (Nadia Tereszkiewicz, quite good), lives on a remote French farm with her widowed father (Gustave Kervern). Unbenownst to the rest of the world, Rosalie has a secret. She suffers from Hirsutism. A condition that causes excessive hair growth all over her (or a woman’s) body. After decades of shaving her face daily and keeping her away from preying eyes as much as possible, Rosalie’s father has arranged a marriage with Abel (Benoît Magimal, solid).a tavern owner in a distant village. Still hampered by injuries sustained on the battlefield earlier in his life, Abel is desperate for Rosalie’s dowry to save his business. Well aware of Abel’s troubles, Rosalie’s father doesn’t disclose her condition. And, he makes sure she reveals it until after they have taken their vows and daddy’s hit the road.
As you can imagine, Abel is not thrilled when he discovers Rosalie’s secret, but that’s not really the story Di Giusto and her co-screenwriters are most interested in telling. The village is effectively run by a “Master,” Barcelin (Benjamin Biolay), who owns the factory that keeps almost everyone employed. Barcelin is also something of a prohibitionist and has discouraged his workers from visiting Abel’s establishment, putting him in significant debt (hence, the need for Rosalie’s dowry). To say he would not embrace Rosalie’s real visage is something of an understatement.
After being romantically spurred by he new husband, Rosalie defiantly decides she won’t hide her true self anymore. To Abel’s horror, she makes a bet with one of his friends, Jean (Eugène Marcuse), that she can grow out a beard. When she easily wins the 400 francs, she’s excited by how curious and amiable the bar patrons appear to be about her hair. Aware of the “bearded ladies” who appear at carnivals, Rosalie informs Abel she believes her own furry visage could turn his fortunes around. And, for a moment, the townspeople are enamored enough to make Abel’s establishment a destination. Until, as you’d expect, fate and fear take a seat at the table.
Di Giusto’s inspiration for “Rosalie” was Clémentine Delait, a woman who lived proudly with her condition in the same era. But the filmmaker specifically didn’t want to make a biopic. So, instead, the movie plays out with a more decidedly modern perspective on the proceedings. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rosalie befriends Jeanne (Anna Biolay), a young woman at the factory who is likely queer and is enthralled by her presence. Di Giusto also hints that there may be other members of the village – such as Abel’s old war buddy Pierre (Guillaume Gouix) – whose hatred for Rosalie’s beard may be a manifestation of their own personal fears. But, it’s all very surface. Despite the classy cinematography and quality costumes, there is almost a lack of sophistication regarding the material. This is simply not a deep movie.
As the drama plays out, the question of whether Abel will truly accept his wife hangs over the proceedings. But does it, though? Outside of a very curious ending, “Rosalie” is the sort of pretty prestige comfort food that would win over art-house moviegoers before the pandemic. And, frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that.